Sports

Who is Kelli Tennant, the woman who accused Kings coach Luke Walton of sexual assault?

Kelli Tennant, the woman who accused Kings coach Luke Walton of sexual assault, was a sports broadcaster

Newly hired Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton has been accused of sexual assault by former sports reporter Kelli Tennant, who wrote a book with Walton and played volleyball at USC.
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Newly hired Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton has been accused of sexual assault by former sports reporter Kelli Tennant, who wrote a book with Walton and played volleyball at USC.

Kelli Tennant, the woman who has accused new Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton of sexual assault, is a former college athlete and sports reporter who has talked openly about struggling for years with physical ills and depression.

Those problems led her to become a women’s self-help guru with a podcast and seminars that focus on “guiding women to become their best selves.”

Tennant filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles on Monday alleging Walton assaulted her in a Santa Monica hotel room sometime before he became coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.

Tennant, 31, who grew up in Temecula and played volleyball at the University of Southern California, was at the time a sports reporter for Spectrum Sportsnet LA, as well as ESPN and other outlets, covering the Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers. She had gone to Walton’s room, she said, to present him with a copy of a book she had written and that he had written the forward for.

Speaking in 2017 on The Outlier podcast, Tennant talked about loving her work as a broadcaster, but acknowledged it was sometimes emotionally difficult working in a male-dominated world, and that there were times when she left a clubhouse in tears.

“I have definitely been in situations with people that are uncomfortable,” she said. But she said she learned to value herself. “That has really gotten me through it. I am here to do my job. I am here to be respected. And I respect myself and I expect you to respect me in return.

“Because I have that mentality, I can say now I don’t have any problems with players.”

Santa Monica police on Tuesday said they had not received a report about the incident and are not investigating. “The victim has to file a report for us to look into it,” Lt. Candice Cobarrubias said.

Beth Hassett, the CEO in Sacramento of WEAVE, a crisis center for sexual assault victims, said that only slightly more than one-third of sexual assault victims report the crime to police. Among the reasons, she said, is fear of disrupting their life and losing a job, as well as a fear of being caught in a “he said, she said” situation, and “great fear about being blamed for what happened and the person they are accusing not being held accountable.”

Since leaving Spectrum, Tennant has run a health and wellness podcast and blog called “Ceremony Wellness,” focused on women’s physical and psychological health. Tennant is popular on Instagram with 33,500 followers where she advertises herself as “advocating for women to help them heal, grow, and elevate their lives.”

“I support Kelli 100%,” Jeroen de Wit, a spiritual psychologist who spoke with Tennant on her podcast last month, wrote in an email to The Sacramento Bee. “The behavior that she and so many other women have had to deal with needs to be exposed and checked.”

One “Ceremony Wellness” podcast listener wrote a review last week saying, “Kelli and her guests have taught me so much about healing both physically and emotionally, all the while keeping it light and fun – you can’t help but smile when you hear Kelli’s voice as you can tell she genuinely loves helping other people.”

Tennant authored a book in 2014 called “The Transition: Every Athlete’s Guide to Life After Sports.” The book is a guide for post-college athletes who are leaving the world of sports, which she wrote after suffering from fibromyalgia in college and for years after. Walton wrote the forward for the book.

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Tennant has written and spoken for several years about struggling in life with her illness and an eating disorder, and about learning to value herself. As recently as last week, Tennant discussed her ongoing efforts to come to terms with her chronic illness and past trauma on the Align Podcast, recently using the plant-based hallucinogenic drug ayahuasca as a form of medical treatment.

“It was dark for sure, I went to some dark places but when you come out of that and start making correlations of things that have happened in your life that you’ve never understood,” she said on the podcast. “It’s such a breath, like a release and relief because things you could never understand for however many years are all of a sudden coming together and I just feel so much clarity around it.”

Tennant said that when she was young, she wanted to be on television and famous, but her health struggles have caused her to want to help other women. Television, in fact, proved to be exhausting partly because much of it was focused on the way she looked, she said.

“When I got into television, I thought it was really important to show my hair and makeup and outfits ... “ she wrote in 2017 on the Thrive Global website, adding “ ... this is exhausting and incredibly narcissistic. I had no idea what I was doing to myself and the image I was portraying.”

“A constant need for people to tell you you’re pretty and good enough takes everything out of you. It was the middle of 2016 when my mind really started shifting. I chopped my hair about a foot, leaving it at shoulder length, and started wearing way less makeup. My selfie game was cut about 75% and my reason for posting started shifting as well. I was posting with purpose. I started to value myself for who I am and what I have to offer, rather than the leggy young television host starved of attention and love.”

She writes now about becoming an “autoimmune warrior” with a desire and ability to guide women to become their best selves. “I understand what it’s like to be depressed and unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is why after 14 years of chronic illness, I’ve worked with hundreds of practitioners and created my own protocol to help other women heal.”

In her first episode of her podcast, Tennant recounted how in third grade, a girl came up to her and told her she had been molested by her uncle. It came out of no where, Tennant said. “But she felt safe sharing this traumatic experience with me and I remember sensing how much better she felt after we talked about it,” Tennant said on the podcast.

“This type of sharing has continued for 20 years, whether it’s with friends, colleagues, athletes or even random strangers. People are drawn to connecting with me on the deepest level.”

Tennant is planning an October wellness seminar in Los Angeles with a focus on “healing, detoxing and managing stress.” The online invitation welcomes woman who “have been assaulted or bullied,” who desire more for themselves and “want to practice self-love,” and who are ready to surround themselves “with incredible people and feel seen and held.”

“Spend an entire day with all of the experts, healers and doctors who have changed my life, so you can stop living in pain and feeling disconnected, and instead wake up feeling refreshed with vibrant energy, clear skin, and pain-free and live the life you’ve been longing for,” she writes.

The Sacramento Kings hired former Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton to a four-year deal on April 13, 2019. Walton replaces Dave Joerger, who was fired after three seasons.

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